Ava DuVernay on Fil-Am boy who almost steals ‘A Wrinkle in Time’
LOS ANGELES—“Gosh, his performance is very muscular for a little boy,” Ava DuVernay gushed about Deric McCabe, the Filipino-American child actor who almost steals “A Wrinkle in Time” as Charles Wallace.
“He is 9 years old,” the director added about Deric, who won the role after a six-month worldwide search involving thousands of kids. In Ava’s film adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s timeless novel, Deric and Storm Reid (Meg Murry) play siblings who search for their father, Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine), a physicist who mysteriously disappeared.
When three otherworldly visitors—Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling)—appear before Meg, Charles and their friend, Calvin (Levi Miller), they all set off to search for Dr. Murry. The journey takes the moviegoers across dimensions of time and space as they encounter dark and light forces.
Deric starts as the supporting, though very charismatic, little brother, but toward the end, his Charles Wallace becomes a significant character.
The young actor may be short, but in these crucial scenes, he becomes larger than life, living up to the challenge of his role. Deric commands the screen effortlessly and naturally, and almost steals the movie.
“He was such a light to us on set,” said Ava, who’s always a lively interviewee, but she appeared even more enthusiastic as she talked about her talented discovery. She matched that exuberance with a flowing, bright orange dress which lightened the modernist grayness of a meeting room at the W Hollywood Hotel.
“Deric loves show tunes,” Ava shared with a laugh. “He knows the lyrics to every song on the radio. He has jokes. He has so much energy. We were making a kids’ movie, so to have his kid energy lifted us up.”
Smiling, Ava then discussed the other side of Deric, which made him perfect for Charles Wallace. “But Deric is also a mischievous guy, so he had a harder time playing the sweet Charles Wallace (laughs). I would be like, ‘Be the sweetest boy in the world.’ And he would be like, ‘OK.’ Then, I’d say, ‘Be the baddest boy in the world’—and he loved that (laughs). He had a great time. I don’t have children, so it was a joy to work with him.”
The sensational young find, whose mother is a Filipino named Judith, was born in Whitefish, Montana. When he was barely a year old, he and his family moved to California. They reside in Burbank. Deric’s other credits include “Hold On” (he played Paul Duran) and “Stephanie” (Moppet).
On Deric’s Facebook page, there’s a video showing his Filipino grandma, Edith, teaching him Tagalog.
The diverse casting, from Deric to Mindy, reflects the vision of Ava who has always passionately championed multiculturalism. The filmmaker, who won acclaim for the film “Selma” and the documentary “13th,” was told that “A Wrinkle in Time” is unadaptable because of its enormous scope and complex themes.
But Ava went ahead and made her adaptation, anyway. “People told me that there’s
no way to adapt this book. It had been done once before, for network television (in 2003)
and Madeleine L’Engle herself didn’t like it. So it’s scary to think about delving into it.
“But what really got me was the Meg character, and when Disney said that I can have a Southeast Asian woman (Mindy) be one of the Mrs. and that the parents can be an interracial couple (Chris and Gugu Mbatha-Raw), I said, ‘I’m going to make it adaptable,’ because these images are important to have.
“Cinematically, some things have to be changed, but the book is beautifully dense, with a lot of details. You have to choose what you want to do.
“I felt the same at the end of the book that I felt at the end of the movie—and that’s what we wanted. There were a few pieces that were changed and contemporized as in any adaptation.”
Ava even found ways to include quotes by contemporary people of color, from the late Maya Angelou to Lin-Manuel Miranda, in the film (they are not in the book, which came out in 1962). “Maya was a great mother figure to Oprah and someone we wanted to put in as one of the great thinkers,” the director explained. “There were no black women and people of color mentioned in the book. But in the movie, Lin-Manuel Miranda has a quote at the end.”
On Oprah, whom she directed in “Selma,” Ava said, “She has an aura, and she has something about her. People might be intimidated by her at first, but by the end of our film, all of our grips, gaffers and craft union guys with tool belts, when she walks in a room, it’s like these men have puppy-dog eyes. They love her (laughs).
“She makes people comfortable. She makes you forget that she’s a billionaire twice over (laughs).”
In Ava’s vision of a feminized fantasy film, Oprah, Reese and Mindy are supernatural beings with highly stylized hair, makeup and costumes straight out of Vogue.
Ava commented, “I looked at a bunch of fantasy films, and I say, ‘God, they had an opportunity to do something great with those costumes, and they didn’t.’ But we are going to, with bedazzled eyebrows, big hair and clothes. So I made this film like a girl, and I’m proud of that (laughs).
“Usually in a superhero or fantasy film, there’s a lot of action or some aggression in it. With this, I wanted to feminize a fantasy film. We see ‘Avatar’ and ‘Lord of the Rings,’ and these are the most recent fantasy films made through the eyes of a man. I love those films, but there’s an aggression to the way that the narrative unfolds, about wars and battles. This is also about a battle, but it’s an internal battle.
“People want this film to be like ‘Selma’ in space. But we can also have fun and do something light. Not everything has to be issue-oriented.”
On how she plans to tap her success and influence, Ava had a quick answer. “I want to use it to expand the boundaries of what people think women directors can do,” said the woman who heads Array, a nonprofit organization dedicated to distributing films by women and people of color.
She told me in a previous interview, “I always imagined girls or people with brown skin from all over the world, whether it’s the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Brazil or Africa—seeing something they’ve never seen—people making films, taking control of their images … that was a bridge for me to cross, because I never saw it. I hope I can be that bridge for other people.”
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.
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